Personal Critique Process for “John Aslarona's Yoda” by Sam Spratt
So last year, the young digital illustrator, John Aslarona, won a one-on-one critique with me to develop a painting. This was a much more elaborate, multi-staged, process than the above image illustrates, but it should give you a rough idea of how a second set of eyes and hands can change everything—especially when done during the process of creation—rather than at the end.
While with my own pieces, I find they move forward in a largely linear direction of completion—having John send me progress, deconstructing it, adding my layers of painted critiques and accompanying instructions over it, and then waiting for his interpretation on top of that—was a very different experience. What began as me correcting lighting, anatomy, proportions, and tone—shifted and twisted with every revision. After all, this isn’t really “my piece” even though I have a couple hours in there, what it is—is pushing one artist outside his comfort zone to question how to take his own work further at every level. You’ll see that what progressed wasn’t just surface-level technicalities like lighting and anatomy—it became an evolution in his skill set simply seeing alternative approaches to familiar dilemmas.
John is quite talented but holds himself back in various areas to keep his work uniform—many artists do this because honestly—we’re basically demanded to do so. Throughout this process, I did what I could to push him to explore both classical techniques he hadn’t touched yet as well as personal techniques I frequently use—and he handled my sometimes brutal criticism like a fucking pro. He didn’t just do what I told him to fix, he took his spin on executing the ideas behind them. About a dozen hours I believe were put in on John’s end with no more than 2-2.5 on my end fixing the initial greyscale, tweaking early color, and then dialing back from the final image he sent me (the 4th, golden-ish one) to make the large one at the bottom. Outside of outright proportions, much of what I had him focus on was brush-work, the subtlety of lighting and to a lesser extent—color, the importance of soft and hard edges, and atmosphere. The tweaks made on my end were there purely to push him to the next stages by showing on his own piece—what a huge difference a little bit of work through new eyes can make.
I’m a fledgling to the world of illustration myself and John is even newer and younger than I am—I highly recommend keeping an eye on his work as it continues to evolve at a rapid pace. If you are in New York and are interested in private illustration/painting lessons with yours truly, I do offer that as well.